What happened??? The custom arcade threads used to be pretty active…
Here’s a bunch of tips I put together on building the box:
Hope it’s not too long.
Otherwise you’ll be more prone to mess up and become frustrated. Your attitude, personality and state of mind show in your finished work. Crappy mood = crappy box.
PLAN AHEAD! This saves you so much time. The more prepared you are the more ready you’ll be when you actually start your joystick and the less likely you will mess up. Examples include making templates for hard to cut parts, making an outline of all the materials and tools you have and need, and pre-cutting, stripping and labeling your wires.
Use 1/2" MDF (medium density fiberboard) to make templates. Rough cut your pieces with a jig saw a bit outside the line and then sand to the proper dimensions. I choose MDF as the material for templates because it’s cheap and sands/cuts very easily. This is mainly for use with a router and a pattern cutter or flush trim bit. I use a flush trim bit and it works great. This method is great for doing curves accurately. You also have the templates to save for future use. This method is of course assuming that you are using a router and have a pattern bit.
If you are using screws pre-drill all your holes. This takes more time but the payoff is no cracked or split wood. Use a drill bit slightly smaller than the screw thread diameter.
If you are going to use plexiglass to cover your artwork on your control panel buy Lexan brand instead of genaric stuff. Lexan is the greatest creation on earth next to mountain dew. Why? Lexan is not plexiglass. It’s a polycarbonate. In simple terms this means you can cut, drill, bend, stomp, bite or whatever your sick mind can come up with and it acts more like plastic than plexi. It doesn’t crack at all when cutting or drilling. You can pretty much treat it like wood when working with it. I love this stuff. It only costs $2-$3 more than the genaric will-probably-crack-when-you-try-to-cut-or-drill-it stuff. Really no reason not to buy it.
Wood putty is your friend! You can use it to fill countersunk screw holes (see below), seal split wood, fill in cracks and/or gouges, fill in small holes and probably a million other things. The key to using wood putty in the most effective way is to use thin coats and overfill slightly. The reason being that wood putty shrinks as it dries and also the thinner the coat the quicker it dries.
A personal rule of thumb of mine is that when cutting the pieces for your box, a 1/16" over or undercut is acceptable because the sanding to make all the pieces flush is trivial. Just use some 60 or even 40 grit whan sanding and you’re good. Be careful not to oversand. You can take away but you can’t add more wood (unless you use wood putty) without cutting a new piece… It’s always better to overcut by a bit than undercut. If you over cut you only need to sand the part you overcut on. If you undercut you have to sand every piece to make them flush.
1. Glue and screw
This is probably the most common method of joinery for joysticks. For the most part, all it consists of using wood and glue to join the edges of your joystick box. The most effective way I’ve found to do this method is to glue the pieces together and while it’s all clamped up I drill the pilot holes and put the screws in. The keys to this method are the following:
Make sure you drill pilot holes. This will save you so much trouble. This practically eliminates splitting. You still have to be careful though. When you see glue squeeze out, the screws are tight enough.
Make sure your edges are exactly where you want them when you glue them up. This will save you a lot of sanding time in the end.
Countersink your screws a tiny bit so they are under the surface of the wood. This way you can add wood putty in the holes to make the wood flush again. A quick sanding and you’ll never know you had screws there at all. Do the wood putty in 2 coats; the first to fill the hole, and the second to flush up the surface. I do it this way because the wood putty shrinks as it dries. It only takes 15 minutes to an hour to dry (for deeper holes), so don’t be afraid to use as many coats necessary to make your surface smooth.
A good screw length to use for 3/4" wood is 1 1/4"-1 1/2". This way you have 1/2"-3/4" screwed into each piece. Keep in mind that with this method, the real purpose of the screws isn’t to hold your box together. It’s to pretty much clamp the pieces together as the glue dries. The glue is the actual bonding medium. Of course, the extra support from the screws never hurts ; ). With that in mind it’s possible to get away with one screw on each of the front and back edges and 4-6 to hold your control panel down depending on it’s size. You have to make absolutely sure that your edges are flush though. Otherwise the glue won’t bond to it’s full potential and you only have a few screws holding your box together. Not good. Glue and screws is an excellent starting method.
My favorite method and the one I still use now. First a quick primer on what biscuits are and what they do. Biscuits are small oval shaped wood pieces made of a special wood that expands with moisture. They come in 4 sizes: #0, #10, #20, and FF (face frame). The size gets bigger from FF (smallest) to #20 (largest). FF requires a 2" blade while the other 3 sizes require a 4" blade. FF biscuits are use mainly for small pieces of wood that are too small for any of the other sizes. Picture frames, for example. I mainly use #10 and #20 for putting my boxes together. Biscuits also require a special tool called a biscuit joiner or plate joiner. They run anywhere from $100 to $200 or more so only buy one if you make more than just joysticks. Fortunately I make a lot of other things too so I bought a nice biscuit joiner by Porter-Cable. There is also another method of cutting biscuit slots if you have a router. There are special biscuit slot cutters available from woodcraft stores. These cost about $45 which is a lot cheaper than a joiner. Now the way biscuits work is that after cutting your slots, you apply a decent amount of wood glue to the slots and on the biscuit itself and clamp tight for 24 hours. The biscuits initally have a semi-tight fit. What happens during the drying time, is that because the glue has moisture in it, the biscuits expand and create an extremely tight bond in the wood joined. The reason I love this particular method of joinery Is because you are creating a super tight bond without much preperation. You only need 4 biscuits to make a basic joystick box (more if you also join the top this way). 2 in the back and 2 in the front. You cut a total of 8 slots. Measuring is easy. Just find the middle points of the joining edges and mark, then cut the slots with the cutter. Very easy. Angles: To be continued…
3. Glue only
This is probably the easiest method of joining your pieces together. There is only 1 prerequiset to using this method: Your edges have to be flush fitting. If they’re not then the glue won’t bond properly and your joystick will eventually fall apart. You can make sure they’re flush by being very careful when you cut and also by doing a dry fit (assembling your box without glue or anything) after each cut. That’s pretty much it. When your edges fit tight and flush apply glue to all sides to be joined, line them up and clamp them tight for 24 hours. Extremely easy. Especially if you are using table saw or circular saw with a guide. If you only have a jig saw I don’t recommend this method. Too much sanding will be involved. Use glue and screws instead.
4. Screw only
This method is pretty easy as well. It’s only a bit more complex in that you have to do a dry fit and clamp your box together before putting any screws in. Again, predrill your screw holes to prevent wood splitting. That’s pretty much all there is to using screws. But if you can use screws alone why not just spend a couple of extra dollars and get a small bottle of good wood glue and use glue and screws? I only recommend this method if you are absolutely broke and only have wood screws. A strong method nonetheless and cleaner than using glue and screws. As for screwing in the screws I recommend using a drill to screw them in most of the way and just use a hand screw driver to do the final tightning. This avoids possible splitting at the edges of the wood from over drilling the screws in.
Of course, there are other methods of joining your box together. I only outlined the most common and my favorite. I believe a couple of others deserve mentioning though. First is the mortise and tenon. This is a very complicated joint so I won’t go into it too much. It’s just a really cool joint so I had to mention it : ). It basically is making a groove in one edge of the wood (mortise) and shaping the other edge (tenon) on the joining piece to fit in the mortise. A simpler version is a loose mortise and tenon. You make identical mortises in the joining pieces and just custom fabricate a loose tenon to fit in the grooves and join the 2 pieces. Kind of like dowels, which is the second method worth mentioning. Dowels can take the place of screws in the glue and screws method. You do everything the same up to the point of drilling the pilot holes for the screws. At this point what you would do is drill a hole in the diameter of your dowels where the screws would go. When drilling, decide hpw much of the dowel you want to protrude in the joining piece of wood and add that to the thickness of the wood you are using. For example purposes, say you want your dowel to go into the joining piece of wood 3/4", and that the wood you’re using is 3/4" thick. You would add the two and get your drilling depth. In this case it ends up being 1 1/2". Measure that on your drill bit and mark it by wraping a piece of masking tape around the bit. When drilling the dowel hole, stop the drill when the tape touches the wood and reverse out. Use heavy shears or any type of saw to cut the dowel to length. Give yourself an extra 1/4"-1/2" on the length to make sure your dowel completely goes through both pieces of wood. Then you would glue up the dowel and put it in. Ensure a tight fit by giving it a few light taps with a rubber mallet. Any of the dowel that sticks out can be sawn off with a jig saw or hand saw. Sand the dowel flush and you have a nice looking strong joint. Here’s a couple of tips when using dowels: Use a dowel diameter half the thickness of your wood. In the above scenario a 3/8" dowel would be ideal. Dowels take glue much better if the have grooves of some sort in them. You can add grooves easily by taking the dowel and squeezing it a pair of normal pliers. Be careful not to squeeze too hard as to where you make the dowel an oval shape. Moderate pressure is all that’s needed. You can also achieve similar results by using a utility knife and carefully scoring the dowel.
Cutting with a table saw
Using a table saw to cut your pieces is the easiest and quickest way to get straight, flush fitting pieces. You can also do a variety of creative and nice looking cuts with a table saw (see “Adding Decorative Touches”). You can get a table saw starting at $79 and up. If you plan on building more than joysticks, again I recommend buying one. A table saw consists of 4 main parts: the blade, the bevel gauge (for angled pieces), the blade height gauge and the rip fence. The blade is self explanatory; it’s what cuts your wood. the bevel gauge is a very important part to joystick building as it allows you to cut the proper angles on your front and back edges so the top sits completely flush to them. The blade height gauge is also self explanatory; it raises or lowers the blade. A good rule of thumb to keep in mind is to keep the blade no higher than one tooth’s height above the wood.To do this, simply put a piece of the wood you’re using against the blade and lower/raise the blade to the proper height. The rip fence is probably the most important part of cutting your pieces for your joystick. The most important thing to remember is to have a completely straight edge riding the rip fence so the rest of your wood cuts straight. The wood from the hardware store usually has 2 or more factory straight edges. Use a square to see which edges are straight and make an arrow pointing to them. Using the saw is pretty easy once you set it up correctly. Set the bevel gauge to the correct angle, set the blade height, measure your piece and cut away. It’s a good idea to cut a test piece first to make sure you set the rip fence correctly. Micro-adjustment may be necessary. Keep in mind that the blade actually removes about 1/8" of wood each time it cuts (this is called the “kerf”). So when positioning your mark to the blade, position it so the blade is lined up with the outside of your cut line. This way you prevent the blade from taking the 1/8’ too much. When using a table saw I cut in this order: control panel, sides, front and back and the bottom I actually cut after the box is assembled. I don’t want to cut it ahead of time only to have to recut it later on after finding out it’s too small to fit in the bottom properly. If it’s too big no problem, I can just remove a bit more to make it fit. I cut the control panel first because it’s the easiest part to cut. It’s a simple rectangle. I do the sides next because the front and back are based on the sides’ height. Once the sides are cut, do the front and back piece. There is a simple way to do this. Cut a piece of wood to the length of the sides. Then make some test cuts on scrap pieces to properly set the fence. When the scrap piece sits flush with the front or back (whichever end you’re cutting first), cut your actual piece. Repeat for the other piece (whichever piece you didn’t cut first). Make sure your angle matches the angle of your sides (see Cutting the Perfect Angle). See Adding Decorative Touches to see some fancy cuts you can do with the table saw.
Cutting the perfect angle
Measuring and cutting the perfect angle when building your joystick box will ensure that all your pieces will fit flush and minimal sanding will be necessary. This is how you measure the perfect angle: Draw a side view of your box starting with the sides. Draw it at actual size. This is best accomplished with graph paper. So say your sides are to be 8 1/2" wide and 4" high in the back and 3" high in the front. Draw your bottom line and then on the right draw the 4" high line and the 3" high line on the left. Connect the front and back lines with a slanting horizontal line. This is your angle. To measure it, just use a protractor. The trick is to turn the protractor upside down though, so the half circle part is facing you. Position the 90 degree line with the back edge and the 180 degree line with the top of the back edge. See the pic for details. This is your angle measurement. If you did everything as I outlined the angle should read 8 degrees. This is the easiest way I found to measure the angles. Cutting is a whole other story… To cut the perfect angle on your table saw is pretty easy. Just set the bevel gauge to 8 degrees and cut. Do a few test cuts on scrap to get the correct height to match your sides. And then cut your front and back and that’s that. I do not recommend cutting angled pieces with a jig saw at all. Even if you have a jig saw that has a bevel adjustement on it the blade still tends to want to travel it’s own path. You can get a circular saw for the same price as a jigsaw so why not?